The U.S. unemployment rate has spiked to the highest level since the Great Depression. Meanwhile companies across the country are trying to figure out how to safely reopen. It is a scary time. With so much uncertainty and conflicting information from government officials, employees are looking to company leaders for trustworthy guidance and credible information. Employees need to hear from you now. Don’t hesitate to communicate because you don’t have all the answers. Share what you know, acknowledge what you don’t, and bring your employees along on the journey. The content of what you communicate is very important. The act of communicating is equally important. It generates feelings of respect and signals that we truly are “all in this together”.
|Communicate Frequently and On Schedule|
For example, one of my clients sends out a video message from the CEO to all employees at 10 a.m. every Friday and the COO holds a daily phone briefing with the managers every Monday morning. Another client sends an email update from the CEO to all employees at 9 a.m. every weekday and supervisors hold a weekly video conference with their direct reports every Tuesday at 8 a.m.
During these briefings, thoughtful leaders are not just saying, “we’re here for you” like we are hearing in so many commercials. They are stating exactly how they are supporting employees. “We are extending our work from home policy through July 31st.” “We are offering paid sick leave for up to two weeks.” “If you can’t return to work because of lack of childcare, contact your supervisor to learn about our telecommuting options.” People are expecting organizations to protect employees and the community. It is essential for business leaders to clearly communicate how they are living up to these high expectations.
|Be Honest About What Affects Employees|
The company messages must contribute to knowledge, not panic. No need to share worst case scenarios or looming potential disasters. Employees crave clarity and honest information about things that affect them. They want to know… “How many of my coworkers have fallen ill with the virus?” “As the company reopens, exactly how will I stay safe?” “Will there be temperature checks?” “Will breakrooms be open?” “What will happen if I don’t feel comfortable returning to the office yet?” “Is there a chance I’ll be laid off?” When you don’t have answers, acknowledge the uncertainty and assure employees you will provide answers when you have them. Never risk the trust you have established by speculating or giving an answer that may turn out to be untrue next week
|Give Employees a Voice|
As your company attempts to resume regular operations, give employees a platform to discuss concerns and ask specific questions. Solicit solutions to problems they may be experiencing. Schedule a weekly phone call with their managers during which they’re invited to speak openly. Set up a telephone hotline or web-based suggestion box. Encourage workers to share feedback with a trusted team member. This not only generates goodwill, but may result in practical solutions to problems the company is facing.
Skillful execution of high stakes communications, both external and internal, will help determine which companies emerge successfully from the coronavirus pandemic. Resonant and balanced messaging to customers, clients, investors and partners is more important than ever. Frequent and honest communication with employees is also crucial, especially as businesses prepare to reopen to the public. Finally, assume all internal communications may go external. If you’re communicating frequently and honestly, that’s a great thing. No press release or company statement to the media will compare to employees sharing positive messages about your company with their communities and social networks.